Downtown Pittsburgh's residential growth tied to parking

Downtown's residential scene is rocking, with big surges in population, high occupancy rates and lots of units in the pipeline.

It doesn't appear as if anything can slow it, except perhaps parking -- or the lack of it.

That's the concern of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, whose 2014 Downtown scoreboard detailed the residential renaissance taking place in the Golden Triangle but also warned of a tightening parking situation that could impact future growth.

The report, released Thursday, stated that residential developers and managers are "experiencing hesitation from potential renters based on the lack of available parking for tenants Downtown."

It constituted a rare sour note in an otherwise glowing State of Downtown report about the Golden Triangle's transformation over the last decade, from residential growth to filled offices and hotels.

Jeremy Waldrup, the partnership's president and CEO, said he thought it was important to raise the issue.

"I think it's a problem we need to deal with. We wanted to put it in the report," he said. "The purpose of the report is to highlight things we should be thinking about before they become problems."

The partnership, he said, recently began hearing from developers for the first time about parking being a big concern. "This is not a concern they were voicing to us three years ago," he noted.

While there has been a huge growth in the number of apartment and condominium units that have been built in or near Downtown over the last decade, "we're not seeing a lot of new parking developed" because it's expensive to do so, Mr. Waldrup said.

PG graphic:Downtown residential growth
(Click image for larger version)

"I think it's something we need to begin serious discussions about," he added.

While a 2012 Downtown resident survey found that 45.5 percent of tenants walked to work, another 42.1 percent still used a personal vehicle for commuting or business purposes. Furthermore, 59 percent of residents have a parking lease in a Downtown garage.

The concerns come at a time when the number of people moving Downtown and the number of residential units have been soaring.

Between 2000 and 2010, the residential population Downtown grew by 1,053 people, or 40.9 percent, according to the report. In greater Downtown, which includes the north and south shores, the Strip District, Uptown and the lower Hill District, the population has jumped by 14.7 percent to 7,538 people.

In addition, the partnership estimates that another 1,176 people have moved into greater Downtown between 2010 and 2013 as 824 new units have opened up. The report also counted another 2,229 units in the pipeline.

Although some of the Downtown apartment and condo developments such as Piatt Place, Market Square Place, River Vue and 151 First Side have integral parking, others, such as the former Verizon building on Stanwix Street and the Clark Building on Liberty Avenue, do not.

Merrill Stabile, president of Alco Parking, said he also has been hearing from developers who "are very nervous about making sure their residents have parking."

He estimated that there's a need for 1,500 more parking spaces Downtown, but added that he does not have the resources to build that many himself, particularly given the city's high parking tax. He said the city and its parking authority need to get more involved. The city, however, has been reluctant to finance new parking garages given its limited resources and other infrastructure needs.

Parking, overall, is "the tightest I've seen in a long time," Mr. Stabile said.

Some help could be on the way. Millcraft Investments is building a 330-space parking garage as part of its $103 million Gardens at Market Square office, hotel and retail project on Forbes Avenue. It also is working with McKnight Realty Partners on a proposed 600-space garage plus 25,000 square feet of retail at the site of the former Saks Fifth Avenue department store on Smithfield Street.

Despite the concerns about parking, the State of Downtown report portrayed a Golden Triangle thriving in many ways.

It found that the Class A office occupancy rate -- at 92.8 percent in the first quarter -- was higher than that of 14 peer cities, including Austin (Texas), Seattle, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cleveland and Cincinnati, and the national average, which was 85.9 percent.

Class A rental rates, at $27.43 a square foot, were fifth behind Austin, Seattle, Minneapolis and Philadelphia.

In addition, the report showed that hotels in greater Downtown, with a 2013 occupancy rate of 66.1 percent, outperformed those in 10 other peer cities. Just as residential growth is booming Downtown, so is hotel building, with nearly 1,500 units under construction or proposed.

If there's work to do it's on the retail side. The Golden Triangle's retail occupancy rate, at 90 percent, was lower than eight other peer cities, including Baltimore, Austin, Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland. That's despite the fact that 12 new restaurants opened Downtown in 2013 alone.

Among other findings in the report:

• The Downtown workforce, with more than 113,000 salaried workers, represented a net increase of 5 percent between 2005 to 2011.

• Between January 2006 and December 2013, more than $5.5 billion worth of projects have been completed, are under construction or have been proposed in greater Downtown.

"I think the state of Downtown is thriving. I think every indication shows growth and development. We're really pleased about that," Mr. Waldrup said.

The partnership uses the report not only as a benchmark but as an economic development tool to help promote the region.

Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262.

First Published May 15, 2014 4:06 PM

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